10 African American Minnesotans Making History

For Black History Month, we made a list of 10 African American leaders that are changing our communities for the better. Read below to learn more about their contributions to Minnesota.

Bobby Rogers

Photo from walkerart.org.

Bobby Rogers is a local Minneapolis artist who is using art to change the narrative around what it means to be black and muslim, an important endeavor as Republicans continue trying to stoke fear and hate. His social media project #beingblackandmuslim made his art accessible, as he wanted to show people of color in “beauty and positivity” in contrast to the negative images usually shown in the media. Check out Bobby Rogers’ work at https://bobby-rogers.com/.

Sharon Sayles Belton

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Photo Credit: Terry Gydesen.

Sharon Sayles Belton was the first African American and first woman to become Mayor of Minneapolis, paving the way for future leaders. To remember her historic accomplishments, you can see a bronze bust of her in Minneapolis City Hall.

Jeremiah Ellison

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison

Photo from minneapolismn.gov.

Jeremiah Ellison is a Minneapolis Northsider who ran for Ward 5 City Council to make sure local leadership represented the community. He joins a growing movement of young people who know that their time is now. They’re stepping up to become the leaders that will make change in their communities. Learn more about Jeremiah Ellison and his vision for Ward 5.

Lou Bellamy

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Photo Credit: Ann Marsden.

As founder and Co-Artisic Director of Penumbra Theatre Company in Saint Paul, Lou Bellamy has used his company as a platform for highlighting African American writers and plays. He’s passed down his legacy to his daughter, Sarah Bellamy, who will continue to forward their shared vision of a theater that’s “accessible, respectful, and welcoming.” Which is especially important, considering the historic lack of diversity and representation in theater.

Amira Adawe

Photo from npr.org.

As her day job, Amira Adawe is a manager for Governor Mark Dayton’s Children Cabinet. In her “spare time” she is a public health advocate and radio show host from the studio of KALY 101.7 FM. In Somali and other cultures, beauty standards dictate that being lighter skinned is more beautiful, causing many women to use skin lightening creams in the hopes that it will lighten their dark skin. As a graduate student, Adawe became alarmed to find that many of these creams contained extremely toxic levels of mercury. Since then, she’s created The Beautywell Project to fight the stigma around darker skin and the dangerous creams that promise to lighten. Learn more about Amira Adawe’s crusade to end this unsafe beauty standard.

Brittany “Miss Brit” Lynch

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Photo Credit: Colin Michael Simmons.

Brittany “Miss Brit” Lynch wears many hats. She’s a DJ, actor, poet, morning talk show host, and advocate for artists in communities of color. She noticed that artists of color had a harder time finding funding for their work or opportunities to use their creativity. Because of this, she founded a social enterprise called Visions Merging, which focuses on finding jobs and funding projects for artists from historically marginalized communities. Her organization has supplied artists with tens of thousands of dollars in grants, and given over 50 black artists the ability to work as creatives. Learn more about Brittany Lynch’s work to increase diversity in the arts.

Melvin Carter

Melvin Carter celebrates with supporters.

Photo Credit: Evan Frost.

Melvin Carter is the first African American Mayor of Saint Paul. As Mayor, he has already increased the diversity of staff in the Mayor’s office. His first term has focused on creating a college savings account for every child in Saint Paul to close increase opportunities for students of color and encourage students of color to attend college. Learn more about Mayor Melvin Carter and his vision for a Saint Paul that works for everyone.

Fatimah Hussein

Photo from Asiya.

For over a decade, Fatimah Hussein has been dedicated to helping young Muslim girls gain access to sports and physical activity in a society that often actively discourages their participation. This first began when she founded a program, Girls Initiative in Recreation and Leisurely Sports (GIRLS), to create a girls-only gym time. During this time, Hussein realized that she could do more to help young girls stay active, sparking the idea for her company ASIYA, which provides Muslim girls with a versatile line of sports hijabs. Learn more about Fatimah Hussein and her journey to make sports and athletics more accessible to Muslim girls.

Chaun Webster

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Photo from Star Tribune.

Chaun Webster a poet, graphic designer, co-owner, and co-founder of Ancestry Books in North Minneapolis, which highlights works by indigenous authors and authors of color. His bookstore aims to elevate the voices of authors of color by making their work more widely available in a predominantly white field. Learn more about Chaun Webster and check out his bookstore in North Minneapolis.

Phillipe Cunningham

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Photo from cunninghamminneapolis.org.

Phillipe Cunningham is one of the first openly transgender City Councilmembers, representing Ward 4 in Minneapolis. He decided to run after realizing that the status quo wasn’t listening to the needs of the people in his community. Learn more about Phillipe Cunningham and his passion for creating change in Minneapolis.